Results tagged ‘ Cole Hamels ’

Yankee Rotation Started Team’s First-Half Surge

The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.  

STARTING PITCHERS

CC SABATHIA (9-3, 3.45 ERA)

HIROKI KURODA (8-7, 3.17 ERA)

PHIL HUGHES (9-6, 4.29 ERA)

IVAN NOVA (9-3, 4.05 ERA)

ANDY PETTITTE (3-3, 3.22 ERA)

When the New York Yankees were assembling their starting pitchers for the 2012 season they decided to stay away from high-priced free agents like C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish and when they inquired about potential trades they stayed away from teams that were asking too much in return for pitchers like Mark Buerhle, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Garza.

Their first order of business was make sure CC Sabathia was not going to opt out of his contract. He didn’t and the Yankees rewarded their ace with a very lucrative extension to the contract he signed in the winter of 2009.

With that accomplished they decided to offer a 2012 contract to Freddy Garcia, who impressed the Yankees by recording a 12-8 record and a 3.62 ERA in his first season in pinstripes.

They then bolstered their rotation even further by trading mega-prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in return from rookie sensation Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos.

They then signed former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to one-year, $10 million contract.

The Yankees knew that they needed some additional starters to buy time for five young minor-league starters to develop. Trading for Pineda and signing Kuroda would allow the Yankees to continue the development of 21-year-old left-hander Manny Banuelos, 24-year-old right-hander Dellin Betances, 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren, 25-year-old right-hander D.J. Mitchell and 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps.

The Yankees hoped that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova would continue to develop after a season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and they were hopeful 26-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes had put his issues with weakness in his right shoulder behind him and was healthy for the 2012 season.

But, spring training proved to be a little more topsy-turvy than manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.

Pineda, 23, showed up in camp about 20 pounds overweight and as the spring unfolded he was not reaching the mid-90s velocity he exhibited in the first half of the 2011 season. Though publicly the Yankees were saying they were not concerned, privately they were wondering if they had made a terrible mistake in trading away a great prospect in Montero for sore-armed Pineda.

Late in spring training, Pineda came off the mound in a game in which he was shelled by the Phillies complaining of a sore right shoulder. An MRI indicated a partially torn labrum and Pineda would have surgery and miss the entire 2012 season. Oops!

That left the Yankees with five healthy pitchers for five slots. However, Andy Pettitte, who retired after the 2010 season, decided this spring that he wanted to make a comeback and the Yankees were more than willing to accommodate him. He stayed behind at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL, to get in shape for a return sometime in early May.

Now the Yankees had six pitchers and five spots available. But Girardi was confident things would work out on their own. Little did he know that his rotation would end up in tatters in April.

In his four April starts, Garcia was 0-2 with a 12.51 ERA. Garcia’s fastball, which he used to be able to reach the low 90s with was topping out at about 86 miles per hour. That made him fodder for major-league hitters who were willing to wait for something in the strike zone to whack. And Garcia ended up taking some major whackings.

Hughes was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his four April starts and the Yankees possibly were thinking of either shifting him to the bullpen, sending him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or trading him altogether. It was as if the Yankees had finally reached a point with Hughes that they were willing to give up on him.

Nova was hit really hard in the spring and when the season started there was major concerns about his effectiveness. The funny thing was Nova was 3-0 in April but his ERA was 5.18. Ouch!

Kuroda was getting lit up also. American League East teams found his off-speed stuff worth teeing off on, but Kuroda mixed in a few impressive starts to record an inconsistent 2-3 mark with a 3.69 ERA.

Sabathia, meanwhile, was a lot like Nova. He was 3-0 but his ERA was elevated at 4.58. But, then again, Sabathia has been known to start slow and get hot as the weather warms. So there were no real concerns with him.

Pettitte, meanwhile, returned to the Yankees on May 13 for a start against the Mariners. Garcia was banished to the bullpen to make room for the 40-year-old left-hander.

The week after May 13 also seems to coincide with the resurgence of the pitching staff. Every starter seemed to pull things together and harness their stuff to begin a long winning streak. The starting pitching was strong enough to overcome what was an inconsistent offense that could only hit home runs and not hit with runners in scoring position.

Pettitte seemed to light a spark under Hughes and Nova. Kuroda seemed to make the adjustments he needed to make pitching in the American League for the first time and Sabathia got hot like the weather.

Pettitte was 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA in his nine starts through June 27 when a hard-hit ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians struck Pettitte just above his left ankle and fractured his tibia. As a result, Pettitte will miss about two months. But the Yankees are hopeful he will be able to pitch down the stretch enough to be ready for the playoffs.

It is a shame but the staff that Pettitte inspired has really not missed a beat since he was placed on the disabled list.

Since May 25, Nova is 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts. Since May 6, Hughes is 8-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts. Since May 27, Kuroda is 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in eight starts.

Sabathia is 6-3 with a 2.89 since May 4. But Sabathia had to be placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time since the 2007 season on June 25 due to a slight strain in his left groin. He missed two starts leading up the All-Star break but is expected to be activated on July 17 for a start at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In Pettitte’s place, the Yankees have discovered a starter with almost an equal ability to mix pitches and speeds to keep batters off balance. He is Garcia. Yep, that same Garcia that took  thrashing in April.

The man who was abruptly banished to the bullpen found his old fastball velocity and the difference in his results on the mound have been like night and day.

In his two starts in place of Pettitte, Garcia is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA. The Yankees can certainly live with that until Pettitte returns sometime in late August.

Though the Yankees were criticized for not signing any high-priced free-agent pitchers or trading for some, the Yankees have been patient with what they have and it has paid dividends.

On May 21, the Yankees took a 6-0 walloping from the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium and it dropped their season record to 21-21, which found them tied for last place in the American League East with the Boston Red Sox. They trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Rays by 5 1/2 games.

The Yankees reached the 81-game mark with a 4-3 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL, to improve their season record to 49-32. Their 28-11 surge since May 21 gave them a .718 winning percentage over that 39-game stretch and put them in first place in the division by 5 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles.

The biggest reason the Yankees were able to surge into first place was the strength of their starting rotation, which not only held opponents hitters down but they also pitched deep into games. That ended up helping the bullpen shine in closing out games in the late innings because they were not needed as much as they were in April.

The combined record of the starters at the 81-game mark is 40-24. Their team ERA of 3.73 is fourth in the American League.

With the second half to go, Girardi and Rothschild have to keep this momentum from the starters going while preparing them for the playoffs. At this moment it appears that the Yankees will have a good chance to have four pitchers (Sabathia, Hughes, Nova and Kuroda) win 16 games or more. That would make the staff formidable come the playoffs.

Add to that the most successful starter in modern playoff history in Pettitte, than you have the makings of a strong group heading into the postseason.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

SABATHIA: B

KURODA: B

HUGHES: B-

NOVA: B-

PETTITTE: I (Incomplete)

GARCIA: I (Incomplete)

BACKUPS

DAVID PHELPS (0-1, 2.08 ERA in 3 starts)

ADAM WARREN (0-0, 23.14 ERA in 1 start)

The Yankees dipped into their minor-league quintet of young starters at Triple-A to make some fill-in starts.

Phelps made two starts in early May in place of Garcia while the Yankees were still waiting for Pettitte to make his 2012 debut. Meanwhile, Warren and Phelps filled in one start apiece for Sabathia just before the All-Star break.

Phelps actually pitched quite well overall in his three starts and he shows some long-term promise as starter for the future. His only negative was that his pitch count got the better of him in all three starts and he was not able to complete five full innings in any one of them.

Earlier in the season, Phelps spent most of the season with the Yankees as a long man out the bullpen and he was 1-3 with a 3.05 ERA overall in 41 1/3 innings over 15 appearances.

But after his start for the Yankees on the Fourth of July against the Rays, the Yankees sent him Double-A Trenton to stretch him out as a starter. So if anything should happen to any of the Yankees five current starters, Phelps would likely be first in line as a replacement.

Warren, however, had a disastrous major-league debut on June 29 at Yankee Stadium against the Chicago White Sox. As a result we are not likely to see Warren the rest of the season.

He is 5-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 16 starts at Scranton this season.

MIDSEASON GRADES:

PHELPS: B+

WARREN: I (Incomplete)

In addition to Phelps and Warren, the Yankees have also called up Mitchell and he is currently on the 25-man roster as a long reliever.

Mitchell is 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in just 3 2/3 innings covering three appearances. Mitchell’s main calling card is his sinking fastball that allows him to induce a lot of groundball outs.

He was 5-4 with a 5.36 ERA in 14 starts at Scranton this season. The Yankees still consider him a starter but he actually may have more value at the major-league level as a reliever. The Yankees liken him to former Yankee sinker specialist Ramiro Mendoza.

The two biggest jewels in the Yankees’ minor-league system are Banuelos and Betances. Banuelos entered 2012 as the No. 1 prospect and Betances was listed at No. 2. However, neither has distinguished himself at Scranton.

Banuelos was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in six starts before being placed on the disabled list with a left elbow injury. Fortunately for the Yankees, an MRI showed no structural damage to the elbow, but the team is being extremely cautious with their top pitching prospect.

Betances, meanwhile, was 3-5 with an ugly 6.39 ERA at Triple-A in 16 starts before being demoted back to Double-A Trenton. He is 0-1 with an 0.75 ERA there in two starts.

Both pitchers have plus fastballs and they both project to top of the rotation starters in the major leagues. But they both share a problem with harnessing their stuff. Betances walked 69 batters in 74 2/3 innings at Scranton and Banuelos walked nearly five batters every nine innings last season.

The Yankees best pitcher at Triple-A is 39-year-old right-hander Ramon Ortiz. The Dominican is 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 16 starts. Though at age 39 he would fit right in with the Yankees’ roster, Ortiz is with his 12th different organization and the Yankees likely would feel more comfortable using Phelps or Mitchell.

Campos, 19, led the Northwest League in strikeouts and ERA last season and the Yankees were excited to get him as part of the deal that brought them Pineda.

Campos was 3-0 with a 4.01 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings before also being shelved with an elbow injury. Like Banuelos, the Yankees are saying the injury is not serious, but Campos is in Tampa rehabbing at a slow pace.

The Yankees most successful minor-league pitcher this season is 22-year-old right-hander Brett Marshall, who is 9-3 with a 3.17 ERA in 17 starts with Double-A Trenton. Marshall is not a fireballer like Banuelos or Betances (he has just 61 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings).

After Tommy John surgery Marshall has found that the movement on his pitches is more important than velocity. He is on track to make it to the Yankees within the next two or three years.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B

The much-maligned Yankee rotation has been the biggest factor in the Yankees re-awakening after May 21 and their current comfortable lead in their division.

Veterans Sabathia and Kuroda have mixed well with young guns Hughes and Nova to make this one of the best rotations in baseball.

The addition of Pettitte boosted the staff in May and Kuroda, Hughes and Nova immediately started erasing Yankee fans memories about how awful they were in April. When Pettitte returns the Yankees will have the best No. 1 through No. 5 rotation in baseball.

In the meantime, Garcia has fixed his velocity problem an he appears to be pitching to his 2011 form based on his most recent two starts.

With Phelps in the wings it is doubtful the Yankees will make a trade-deadline move to get an additional starter.

Though I continue to see fellow bloggers and Yankee fans insist the Yankees should make an effort to trade for Matt Cain or Cole Hamels, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has maintained the Yankees are determined to cut payroll by 2014.

If the Yankees passed on Wilson, Darvish, Buerhle, Gonzalez and Garza before there is no reason to think they will add to the team’s payroll by trading for a high-priced starter at the end of the month. The Yankees think they can win with what they have and it is doubtful they will add anyone significant at the deadline.

Those dyed-in-the-wool Yankee lovers can start crying now. It just is not going to happen.

 

Perhaps Hughes The Key To Yankees Minus Rivera

As weeks go you would have to say this week for the New York Yankees was not a good one and that is putting it mildly. It was disastrous.

The loss of the greatest closer to ever walk the planet is a pretty steep price to pay for any team. But it was just the tip of the iceberg.

It all started on April 29 when Nick Swisher left a game against the Tigers in the bottom of the third inning with a strained hamstring. At the time Brett Gardner was on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow he sustained making a diving catch on a ball on April 17.

Swisher has been unable to play since and Gardner, who was expected to return on Thursday, had his return delayed for four days.

That means the Yankees have been playing Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eduardo Nunez and now Jayson Nix in the outfield in place of their two injured starters.

That has led some pretty bad outfield play in the past week, especially by “Eduardo Scissorhands” in left-field against the Orioles.

Though the Yankees may have had some laughs when Nunez slipped and slid his way through his first start in left on Monday, it was no laughing matter the next night when he allowed a fly ball off the bat of Nick Johnson fall and two runs to score.

It was initially scored as a two-base error. But MLB Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre on Friday reversed the call into a double. However, whether it was scored an error or a double, it still cost the Yankees two runs in three-run inning that ended up in a 7-1 defeat. The point is that the ball should have been caught and it wasn’t.

This outfield roulette the Yankees are playing does not even take into account how the offense has been hurt by losing Gardner and Swisher for this long a period of time.

At the time of his injury, Gardner was hitting .321. Swisher was even better. He was hitting .284 with six home runs and he was leading the American League in RBIs with 23. You can’t expect to replace 67 percent of your starting outfield with older veterans and young neophytes and expect the offense and defense to be there. Just ask the Boston Red Sox.

The loss of Gardner has allowed manager Joe Girardi to use his platoon designated hitters, Jones and Ibanez, in the field and give Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez half-days off as the DH. That means Scissorhands plays shortstop and Eric Chavez plays third base.

Nunez promptly goes into a 0-for-19 slide this week and the preciously delicate exoskeleton and inner body linings and muscles of Chavez again reared its ugly head – literally – on Wednesday night.

Chavez dove for a ball off the bat of J.J. Hardy and his head slammed the infield dirt at Yankee Stadium pretty hard. The next thing you know Chavez is on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion. If this anything like the fractured bone in his foot he injured at about the same time last season, we should see Chavez back in a Yankee uniform during the 2016 Yankee Old-Timers’ Day celebration and I hope Eric brings a football helmet and pads to play in the game.

This does not even address the starting pitching problems Girardi is already faced and with which he is still dealing.

While CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda seem to be settling into their roles as the ace and No.2  starter of the staff, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia seem to be playing a contest amongst themselves of who could give up the most hits and runs in the shortest stretch of innings.

Well, Garcia won that contest hands down and he was banished to the bullpen and rookie David Phelps made his first major-league start on Thursday.

This was not the way it was supposed to be with Andy Pettitte on the verge of coming back and when the Yankees were counting on getting Michael Pineda back from his sore right shoulder problems in May. Now Pineda is lost for the season with shoulder surgery and Pettitte can’t get back to the Yankees soon enough to suit Yankee fans.

The loss of Mariano Rivera makes it even harder to decipher.

For now, it looks as if David Robertson and Rafael Soriano will share the closer’s role. But with Joba Chamberlain still recovering from both Tommy John and Chuckie Cheez ankle surgeries the bullpen suddenly looks a whole lot thinner than it did before Mo collapsed in pain on the Kauffman Stadium warning track on Thursday.

Perhaps there could be a silver lining if Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman are open to see their way clear of this mess. Some good could come of it if they play it correctly.

First, they have to allow Phelps to continue to pitch in the rotation and give him a chance to show what he can do. It is only fair they do that to what looks to be a promising 25-year-old right-hander. Nova’s 15-game winning streak is over but he certainly is capable of pitching better than he did this week. So you have to continue to roll with him.

But when Pettitte returns you have to make a move to take one person out of the rotation and there is no better candidate than Hughes.

If you look at the period of time Hughes was most successful it was when he was the setup man for Rivera during the Yankees second-half push to the playoffs and the world championship in 2009. His bullpen numbers were even better than Rivera’s numbers that season.

In 2010, he was needed as a starter and he won 18 games. However, after the second half of 2010 it was obvious he was not the same pitcher he was before the All-Star break that season. His year-long struggles with weakness in his right shoulder in 2011 bore that out.

So far in 2012, Hughes has not struggled with velocity. He is back to throwing an average of 92 mph and getting up to 94 and 95 with ease. But he also has been victimized by the longball and he is carrying a 1-4 record with a 7.48 ERA after five starts.

In the past the presence of Robertson, Soriano and Chamberlain made it impossible for Hughes to shift back to the bullpen. But with Soriano and Robertson sharing the eighth and ninth innings and Chamberlain likely out for the season it would seem to make sense to try Hughes in the seventh inning role that Chamberlain, Robertson and lately Soriano have made so vital.

I do understand that once you shift Hughes to that role there is no shifting him back to a starting role. But if Phelps eventually falters you can always give Garcia another try and there also is a number options that can made through trades and signing of free agents.

I have heard Roy Oswalt’s name and I hope that is all I hear about him because he has a chronic back condition that makes him risky. However, the Yankees have a farm system rich enough to be able to make trades to acquire 2013 free-agents-to-be like Matt Cain of the Giants and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has this option in his back pocket through the end of July and he will have plenty of time to evaluate the need for that trade by that time.

The Yankees also are looking at having former Mariners closer David Aardsma to add to the bullpen. He could perhaps also take the seventh inning role if he is healthy. But I think they need to keep Hughes in mind as a potential player in the bullpen because I still believe he can shine there.

For one thing he can shelve his awful secondary pitches like his change-up and concentrate on his fastball, curve and cutter. His velocity should also move up to the 97 mph mark he used to throw and that wll cover for a lot of mistakes in his location he makes as a starter.

We will see how it plays out but the Yankees just need to get Swisher and Gardner back on the field and hopefully Robinson Cano will stop hitting like Luis Sojo in time for the Yankees make a run at the 2012 playoffs.

They may as well try because they are now finding there are much lower expectations on this team now.

 

Yankees Open Spring By Blowing Past Phillies

GAME 1

YANKEES 8, PHILLIES 5

Jorge Vazquez rolled a sharp single into right-field to score Cole Garner from second base to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning as New York opened its 2012 Grapefruit League season on a wind-swept Saturday with a victory over Philadelphia at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Twenty-year-old rookie left-hander Manny Banuelos (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings to get credit for the victory. Veteran left-hander Dontrelle Willis took the loss for the Phillies.

Curtis Granderson was 2-for-2 with a double, a solo home run and two runs scored to pace the Yankees’ attack early. Garner added a two-run home run off reliever Chad Qualls in the seventh inning and outfielder Zoilo Almonte, who had four RBIs in Friday’s 11-0 exhibition victory against the University of South Florida, added a pinch-hit, two-run double in the ninth to cap the Yankees’ scoring for the afternoon.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson is off to fast start this spring. He singled in his only at-bat on Friday against USF and is 3-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Granderson had a career season in 2011 with 41 home runs, 119 RBIs and 136 runs scored.
  • Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and gave up one hit, no walks and struck out two batters in his two innings of work. Unfortunately, two errors (including his own error on a pickoff throw) did not help his cause and the only hit he surrendered was a two-run home run to right-center by Hunter Pence off a 3-0 fastball in the first inning. Nova was still pleased with the outing, particularly his second inning.
  • Former Phillie Raul Ibanez got back at his old team by hitting a bloop double on the left-field foul line off the Phillies’ left-handed starter Cole Hamels that scored Granderson with the game’s first run. Ibanez figures to be the Yankees’ designated hitter against right-handers this season.
  • Garner, Almonte, Vazquez and Dewayne Wise all came off the bench to drive in runs for the Yankees and all the team’s eight runs were scored with two outs. Vazquez stroked his single off Willis on a 1-2 count and that hit stood up as the game-winning RBI. Garner’s two-run home run was blasted straight down the left-field line and somehow stayed fair. Wise preceded Garner’s home run with an RBI double to right-center. Almonte’s two-run double to right-center came off reliever Mike Stutes.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The first ball of the spring hit to shortstop Eduardo Nunez off the bat of Shane Victorino skipped past him for an error and Victorino later scored an unearned run on Pence’s homer. Nunez led the team in 2011 with 21 errors in roughly half the playing time of the infield starters.
  • Though Banuelos was credited with the win, fellow rookie Dellin Betances and he did not show much in the way of command of their pitches. After a 1-2-3 fifth, Banuelos gave up a single to Tyson Gillis and then walked Laynce Nix and Hector Luna with two out before retiring John Mayberry Jr. to leave the bases loaded, Betances walked the first two batters he faced before retiring Kevin Frandsen on a double play and Freddy Galvis hit a fly-ball out to center to end the seventh.
  • Former Met Michael O’Connor got off to a bad start in his quest to make the team as a second lefty in the bullpen. He was tagged for three hits and he walked another batter as he gave up three runs in the bottom of the ninth. The big blow was a two-run homer off the bat of Frandsen.

BOMBER BANTER

The game was played under sunny skies and 82-degree weather. However, a 20-mph wind with much higher wind gusts blowing out to left contributed to the two home runs each by both teams and led to some adventurous paths by fielders on high pop-ups.  . . .  A sellout crowd of 10,539 turned out for the Phillies’ home opener at Bright House Field.  . . .   When Ibanez stepped to the plate in the first inning, some fans cheered and others appeared to have been booing. However, Ibanez was unsure if the fans were chanting “Raul” and not booing at all. Ibanez, 39, was allowed to leave the Phiilies as a free agent and he was signed a few weeks ago by the Yankees to a one-year contract.  . . .  The game was broadcast nationally by MLB Network through Comcast Sports of Philadelphia and the Phillies’ television broadcasters described the game.

ON DECK

The Yankees continue their home-away-home three-game series with the Phillies on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia will start the game for the Yankees. Garcia, 35, is vying for a spot in the rotation after a season in which he was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts for the Yankees. As part of the opening ceremonies, the Yankees will wear their pinstripe uniforms and they are scheduled to open with their 2012 projected starting lineup.

The Phillies will counter with 34-year-old right-hander Roy Halladay, who is coming off a season in which he was 19-6 with a 2.34 ERA for the Phillies. Joel Pineiro, David Purcey, Antonio Bastardo and Phillippe Aumont are also scheduled to pitch for the Phillies.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast nationally by MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Get Work In Beating South Florida 11-0

The New York Yankees got some game-condition work in on Friday with a 11-0 exhibition victory over the University of South Florida at George M. Steinbrenner Field at Tampa, FL.

Right-hander Adam Warren pitched two scoreless innings to pick up the victory. Warren, 24, gave up one hit and walked none while striking out two as part of a group of seven Yankee pitchers who limited the Bulls to four hits, no walks and struck out 10.

Manager Joe Girardi started all his regulars with the exception of second baseman Robinson Cano and catcher Russell Martin and the regulars were given only one or two at-bats.

Girardi was pleased with the hitting of outfielder Zoilo Almonte (2-for-2, two RBIs) and second baseman David Adams (1-for-2, one RBI). Outfielder Colin Curtis and Infielder Ramiro Pena added two hits apiece as the Yankees pounded out 14 hits against USF pitching.

The USF Bulls are coached by Lelo Prado, the brother-in-law of former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, currently a special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman. USF is in fourth place in the Big East standings with a 4-4 record.

The Yankees are 3-0 against USF in spring exhibitions by a combined score of 31-5. Proceeds from the game benefitted the USF baseball program.

BOMBER BANTER

Most of Friday’s news surrounded two former Yankees. Former Yankee right-hander A.J. Burnett underwent successful surgery to repair an injury to his right-eye orbital bone in Pittsburgh and the Pirates announced that he will miss about eight to 12 weeks. Bunrett sustained the injury fouling a bunt off his eye during a bunting contest at the Pirates spring training complex in Bradenton, FL.  . . .  Former Yankee catcher and designated hitter Jesus Montero took two foul shots off his jaw in the fifth inning of the Mariners’ spring Cactus League opener against the Oakland Athletics and had to be removed from the game. Up to that point, Montero, 22, was 1-for-3 at the plate with two runs and two RBIs in the game in Phoenix, AZ. The Mariners have already announced that Miguel Olivo will open the season as the team’s starting catcher and that Montero would be a candidate to DH and develop as a catcher as a backup to Olivo.

ON DECK

The Yankees will open their 33-game spring training schedule on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL. Ivan Nova, a 24-year-old right-hander who was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his rookie season, will start for the Yankees. Girardi also said that Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Michael O’Connor and David Phelps will pitch for the Yankees. The starting outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher along with Martin will start for the Yankees.

The Phillies will counter by starting left-hander Cole Hamels, who was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA for the Phillies last season. David Bush, Jonathan Papelbon, Dontrelle Willis, Raul Valdes, Chad Qualls and Mike Stutes are also slated to pitch. The Phiilies willl open their spring slate without three of the top regulars available to play on Saturday. First baseman Ryan Howard has an infection in his left Achilles tendon and has not reported to camp. Second baseman Chase Utley and third baseman Placido Polanco are also being held out of action by manager Charlie Manuel. Utley suffers from a chronic knee condition and Polanco is recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network.

 

Yankees’ Actions Show Desire To Stand Pat In 2012

With the clock finally having run out on the Yankees in their effort to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima it is now becoming obvious the the team will enter the 2012 season with virtually their entire roster from 2011 back.

The Yankees seemed shocked when their $2.5 million bid for Nakajima was the winning bid and they dealt with the 29-year-old Seibu Lions star as if he were just going to be paid as a backup infielder, which is, of course, what he was going to be.

But Nakajima was not happy with that offer and the 5 p.m. deadline came and went without a contract. As a result, the Yankees keep their $2.5 million posting and Nakajima returns to play out his contract with Seibu in Japan.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are now free to make an offer to bring back backup first and third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season. Chavez, who has been hampered by injuries for the past five seasons, missed just over two months of the 2011 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot.

But the Yankees can use Chavez, 34, and his left-handed bat as a backup to Alex Rodriguez at third base, to Mark Teixeira at first base and as possible designated hitter or a power bat off the bench.

If Chavez does re-sign with the Yankees he will join outfielder Andrew Jones, infielder Eduardo Nunez and catcher Francisco Cervelli as the same members of the Yankees’ 2011 bench. However, Cervelli would have to win the backup catching job he has held for the past two seasons from rookie Austin Romine in spring training.

The only change in the Yankees’ 13 position players appears to be rookie Jesus Montero, who figures to be the primary DH and third catcher, replacing longtime veteran Jorge Posada.

The Yankees also re-signed Freddy Garcia to a contract this winter, which means the Yankees rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Garcia figures to return in 2012. Of course, the Yankees are in pursuit of one additional starting pitcher that would allow the team to perhaps unload Burnett and the two years and $33 million owed on his contract.

The Yankees have avoided getting into a bidding war for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they only made a token bid for Japanese star Yu Darvish. They also have balked at trades for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens and Matt Garza because teams have asked for top prospects such as Montero, pitchers Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances and outfielder Mason Williams in return.

The Yankees have had discussions with Scott Boras, the agent for right-hander Edwin Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 32 games (31 starts) for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. However, the Yankees are not likely to pay the $15 million to $17 million per season over four years that Boras is seeking for the 28-year-old right-hander.

The Yankees are looking to bring Jackson’s price down some or they may take a pass on him as well. General manager Brian Cashman said he would like to avoid making a long-term commitment to a pitcher like he did with Burnett, a pitcher who may end up being a mistake in the long run.

The Yankees also might have interest in free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.

The bullpen, with Rafael Soriano opting to stay with the Yankees, also will return pretty much the same nucleus from last season. Soriano and David Robertson will set up the legend of all closers in Mariano Rivera in 2012. Left-hander Boone Logan and right-hander Corey Wade also are back.

Joba Chamberlain is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and he hopes to be ready when spring training begins. However, the Yankees intend to bring the 26-year-old right-hander along slowly and he may not see action until July.

So that means the Yankees will be looking for two pitchers for the bullpen. One likely will be a left-hander to replace Logan as the lefty specialist. The Yankees signed for former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to a minor-league contract. He will compete this spring with Cesar Cabral, who the Royals sent to the Yankees for cash considerations after they selected him from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft in December.

The other spot could go to Hector Noesi, who filled that role for portions of last season. But the Yankees have said they consider him a starter and they do not want to use him a long man in 2012 if they can help it.

But, here again, the stand-pat nature of the Yankees may be reaffirmed. The Yankees also have said they would not mind having 38-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon back as a long man out of the bullpen. Colon was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA but actually pitched much better than the his record indicated.

Colon was actually 8-6 with a 3.31 on Aug. 11 before going 0-4 with four no-decisions and an ERA of 4.93 down the stretch. He was not even placed on the team’s postseason roster for the American League Division Series. The Yankees believe Colon is better suited as a long man and spot starter and they would offer him a contract to return to the team only in that role because they no longer think he can make 33 starts at his age.

Should the Yankees re-sign Colon that means the only change in the pen could be Okajima or Cabral as a second left-hander replacing right-hander Luis Ayala, who was allowed to become a free agent after going 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA last season.

I can’t recall a season in which the Yankees had less turnover on their roster. It is very odd, indeed, for a team that has prided itself in having the winning tradition, the facilities and the cash to get just about any player they could want in the George Steinbrenner era.

However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are at the helm of the ship now and they seem to have a tighter lid on the cash flow. Cashman has been forced to do more with less since the Yankees made their huge splash in 2009 with the free-agent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira, which led to their 27th world championship that October.

Of course, the team did win 97 games in 2o11 and had the best record in the American League. They did it without significant contributions from Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Hughes and off years from players like Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.

Perhaps the addition of the powerful bat of Montero, a second lefty in the bullpen and healthy seasons from A-Rod, Joba and Hughes will be enough to carry the Yankees to another A.L. East title and the playoffs. The concern then turns to how well the starting pitchers stack up heading into the playoffs.

Do not forget that there are a few very good pitchers who will be free agents in 2013 and teams might be looking to unload them before the July 31 trade deadline. One is right-hander Matt Cain of the Giants and another is lefty Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has the patience and the dearth of young prospects to pull off a deal to bolster the staff at any point this season.

So maybe this lack of turnover is not such a bad thing. The team stays strong without adding much in the way of payroll and remains flexible enough to pull off some deals to make a push in the playoffs.

I see nothing wrong with that. Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t make.

 

Wilson, Darvish Top Yankees’ Winter Shopping List

With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.

PART 1 – Starting Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 3 – Finding help with free agents or trades

Looking at the New York Yankees’ starting rotation you have the possible loss of CC Sabathia, the return of injured right-hander Phil Hughes, the return of severely underperforming and overpaid right-hander A.J. Burnett, the sophomore season for rookie surprise Ivan Nova and the likely release of free agents Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

Even if Sabathia somehow decides to re-sign with the Yankees, they will still likely need another starter to add behind the ace left-hander and Hughes, Burnett and Nova. So that begs the question: Will general manager Brian Cashman be looking to spend big bucks to add another starter or two to the Yankees for the 2012 season?

That seems likely given that the Yankees were so hellbent on signing left-hander Cliff Lee last winter. But Lee spurned a better contract offer to sign for less money to pitch with the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite the fact Lee thought he was joining a super rotation of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, the Phillies got no father than the Yankees did in the playoffs and Oswalt was allowed to become a free agent.

This season the Yankees obviously will be focused on getting Sabathia to remain in pinstripes. Sabathia has two days to decide to stay with the Yankees for the four years and $92 million left on his contract or opt out and look for a more lucrative deal. Most baseball insiders believe Sabathia, never being accused of being foolish, will opt out to seek a longer term on his contract and more money.

The Yankees, unlike their attitude when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2008, are prepared to offer Sabathia a very lucrative six-year, $160 million contract modeled after the contract Lee signed with the Phillies. But Sabathia will have other suitors, including the Texas Rangers to increase the bidding price.

If the Yankees succeed in bringing Sabathia back into the fold, they will then turn their attention to acquiring a pitcher who they can slot in as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

TARGET NO. 1 – C.J. WILSON (16-7, 2.94 ERA)

Wilson is a 31-year-old left-hander who was the ace of the American League-champion Rangers. But unlike most 31-year-old starters, Wilson has only two seasons of throwing more than 200 innings behind him because he was a reliever in his previous five major-league seasons, all with the Rangers.

If the Yankees were to keep Sabathia and land Wilson it would a tremendous dual victory for the organization. They would have retained their ace and added a second left-hander to the rotation. In addition, it would be a double blow to the Rangers, who are not exactly swimming in starting pitchers who could pitch on the level of Sabathia and Wilson. Strengthening the Yankees while weakening the Rangers is a definite plus to a front office that is taken a great dislike in the Rangers’ front office over the past two years.

A rotation of Sabathia, Wilson, Hughes, Burnett and Nova does not sound all that bad when you add up their record from last season. That five (understanding that Hughes only pitched 74 2/3 innings) was a combined 67-35 with a 3.81 ERA.

Wilson will command a nice princely sum on the open market because he clearly is the best free-agent pitcher available this winter. In the past three season, the Yankees have not bid on pitchers like Halladay and John Lackey, preferring to either solve their problems from within or signing cheaper free agents like Colon and Garcia.

There is no doubt that Colon and Garcia helped the Yankees during the regular season. They were a liability at crunch time, however.

Colon was 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA and Garcia was 7-6 with a 3.13 ERA in the first half of the season. But in the second half, both pitchers struggled at times. Colon was 2-6 with a 4.96 ERA and Garcia was 5-2 with a 4.45 ERA. Colon pitched so badly he was not even placed on the active roster for the playoffs. Garcia pitched and lost Game 3 to the Tigers.

Neither Colon at age 38 or Garcia at age 35 figure to be back next season.

The Yankees also have a host of young pitching prospects like Manny Banuelos (20), Dellin Betances (23), David Phelps (25), D.J. Mitchell (24) and even Hector Noesi (24), who pitched out of the bullpen for the Yankees. Signing Wilson would give the Yankees an opportunity to bring those prospects along slowly. Banuelos and Betances are easily the most talented of the group and they could use a season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to fine-tune their electric stuff.

Of course, some of them can be used in trades if Cashman felt a need to make a deal for a bench player or a veteran pitcher.

TARGET NO. 2 – YU DARVISH (18-6, 1.44 ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters)

Darvish is a 25-year-old right-hander who stands 6-foot-5 and weights 187 pounds. He is the Randy Johnson of Japan with 276 strikeouts in 232 innings this season.

Even more impressive is that he is 88-33 in his last six seasons with his highest ERA during that period of 2.89 in 2006 when he was just 19.

Darvish has requested that his team owner post his contract in order to make himself available as free agent in the United States. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters owner Hiroji Okoso indicated his readiness to respect Yu Darvish’s decision earlier this month even though the Japanese baseball season has not concluded.

Darvish’s posting will make the posting of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the winter of 2007 look like a flea-market sale. Darvish is a much more gifted pitcher who challenges hitters with his mid-90s fastball and he has some dazzling breaking stuff to go with it. Darvish has also succeeded on the grand stage, being named as the MVP of Japan’s victory in the last World Baseball Classic.

The Yankees, who have been burned in the past with the signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, are nevertheless intrigued by Darvish. They have had a bevy of scouts in Japan clocking every fastball and monitoring the break on his curve. They see him as a potential ace in the major leagues.

But, if the Yankees are committed to re-signing Sabathia and they decide to make a long-term offer to Wilson, Darvish would be even out of reach of the Yankees deep pockets. The posting fee itself could be double the $100 million the Red Sox paid for Matsuzaka. Then the team that wins the posting must sign Darvish to a lucrative contract which might reach $150 million.

So it looks like Darvish would only come into the Yankees’ sights if they fail to keep Sabathia.

The Yankees would then have to pile their cash to sign Wilson and then offer a rich a posting fee to obtain the rights to sign Darvish. They could only afford that if Sabathia does not come back.

Darvish is Plan B if Sabathia leaves. If Sabathis stays, the Yankees likely will still look to sign Wilson and they will let Darvish go to another team with deep pockets like the Red Sox or Rangers.

TARGET NO. 3 – ROY OSWALT (9-10, 3.69 ERA)

Oswalt was injured in 2011 and he started only 23 games for the Phillies. He wasn’t bad as his ERA indicates.

But he also is 34 years old with 2,154 innings pitched in his major-league career. The Phillies chose to not keep him and he will be probably be the second-most sought after pitcher behind Wilson.

Oswalt is consummate pro with the ability to win at the major-league level with less stellar stuff then what he had in early days with Houston like 2005, when he was 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA and 184 strikeouts. Last season batters hit .280 off of him and he was forced to pitch out of a lot of jams.

Back issues forced him to miss all of July and he even considered retiring after this season. But he did throw four quality starts in his last seven appearances. But when it comes to signing Oswalt as a free agent, he is going to have to have doctors clear him to pitch in 2012 before he ever gets a contract offer.

The Yankees’ interest at this point of Oswalt’s career is unlikely. The Yankees would have to basically strike out on keeping Sabathia and signing either Wilson or Darvish before they would even consider making that move. Oswalt has pitched only in the National League and the Yankees have to be leery of guys like him and Javier Vazquez, who post low ERAs in the NL only to pitch with plus 5.00 ERAs in the American League.

Oswalt is the longest of longshots on the Yankees radar this winter. He has too much mileage, there are injury concerns and you have to consider he has not pitched in the AL.

TARGET NO. 4 – FELIX HERNANDEZ (14-14, 3.47 ERA)

With the Yankees, King Felix has been like Jonah’s whale. They try to reel him in but he slips through the nets every time.

Dealing with the Mariners in the past has not been pleasant. The Yankees attempted to deal for Lee when he was pitching for the Mariners in 2010. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik induced Cashman to include Jesus Montero and Ivan Nova in a potential deal for Lee.

The Rangers, on the other hand, were offering a package including power-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak.

Zduriencik then got greedy and asked the Yankees to sweeten the pot by including minor-league shortstop Eduardo Nunez to the package. Cashman said no and Zduriencik went running back to the Rangers to accept the Smoak package. The fact that Smoak bombed badly for the M’s in 2011 gives Yankee fans a lot of pleasure.

The Yankees, in the long run, were better off hanging onto Montero, Nova and Nunez and all three have bright futures ahead of them in pinstripes.

Any deal involving Hernandez likely will start with Zduriencik requesting Montero, Nunez and either Betances or Banuelos or both. This would the cost of doing business with a team that is desperate to fill the seats with a creditable team building for the future. But the Yankees would be crazy to be locked into this madness unless they were real desperate to replace Sabathia and they had lost both Wilson and Darvish in free agency.

This would be their Plan C and it would have to make sense to Cashman to give up so much talent. But Hernandez is not even 25 yet. So if you are going to deal for an ace it might as well be a young one with talent like the King.

But I do not see this happening. The M’s are building a nice rotation of young pitchers and Hernandez is a big part of that. However, their offense is just dreadful and King Felix could bring a package of young hitters the Mariners could build around. Montero would be a special prize here.

But the odds of it happening are in the 500-1 range. Cashman knows Zduriencik practices legal extortion and Cashman may be unwilling to pay up.

NEXT: PART 2 – Relief Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two

Bloop Single Sinks Yanks In Opener As ‘Boss’ Honored

GAME 1
PHILLIES 5, YANKEES 4
TAMPA - Reserve catcher Dane Sardinha’s two-run bloop single to left with the base loaded in the eighth inning gave Philadelphia a 5-4 victory over the New York Yankees in the 2011 spring training opener for both clubs on Saturday.
Brian Schlitter (1-0), who blew a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, was credited with the victory. Eric Wordekemper (0-1) was tagged with the loss.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES
  • Joba Chamberlain was clearly the buzz after the game with his impressive one perfect inning of relief. The 25-year-old right-hander just needed 11 pitches (nine of them strikes) to retire the side in order in the third. He was clocked at 93 miles per hour. 
  • Francisco Cervelli drove in the Yankees’ first run of the spring with a two-out double off Phillies starter Cole Hamels in the second inning to score Robinson Cano.
  • Mark Teixeira drove in the second run with a ringing line-drive triple off wall in left-center to score Eduardo Nunez in the fifth.
  • Alex Rodriguez has two great at-bats but only had a double to right-center to show for it. His long blast to center in the first was caught at the wall by Ben Francisco.
  • Backup first baseman Jorge Vazquez temporarily became the big hero of the day with a two-run blast over the batters’ eye in center in the seventh inning gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead. But the Yankees lost the lead the following inning.
  • Reserve outfielder Justin Maxwell made the defensive play of the day with a diving shoestring catch of a line drive off the bat of Ross Gload in the seventh inning with two men on base, saving at least one run. Maxwell was acquired in a trade with the Nationals.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Starter Bartolo Colon did not look sharp in his spring debut. In two innings he gave up two hits, a walk and one run on 36 pitches. The 37-year-old former Cy Young Award winner did not have his sharp sinker today. However, Cervelli said he was encouraged because Colon was able to locate his fastball and keep the ball down. Colon is auditioning for a spot in the back end of the rotation as a non-roster invitee.
  • David Phelps was the Yankees best minor league pitcher last season but he looked a bit rusty in his spring debut. He was nicked by three consecutive hits after two were out in the fifth inning. That allowed the Phillis to take a 3-1 lead.
  • Wordekemper also looked shaky in his one inning of work. After allowing back-to-back hits to begin the eighth, the right-hander retired the next two batters. However, he walked Jeff Larish to load the bases and Sardinha hit a breaking pitch that echoed like a wet newspaper but the ball escaped the glove of a diving Colin Curtis and two runs scored.
  • The Yankees had many chances to come back on the Phillies and win the game. What did not help was the team was 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and they left 10 runners on base.
BOMBER BANTER
The Yankees paid a poignant tribute to late principal owner George M. Steinbrenner before the game. A video tribute was followed by a laying of three roses at the interlocking NY behind home plate by Steinbrenner’s late wife Joan and his two daughters. The marching band from George M. Steinbrenner High School in Lutz, FL entertained the crowd before the ceremony and Steinbrenner’s granddaughter Haley Swindal performed the national anthem. During the anthem there was flyover of two F-18 Hornets from the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA. The day marked the first spring game since the death of “The Boss” last July at age 80. Fans who entered the stadium at the home=plate entrance were greeted with a huge statute of Steinbrenner erected in his honor.  . . .  The opener was attended by 11,122 and was played under perfect weather conditions. It was 77 degrees and sunny with just a slight breeze at game-time.  . . .  The Yankees fielded their entire starting lineup for the game except for starting catcher Russell Martin, who is easing back into catching this spring because he is recovering from surgery on his right knee. Cervelli started in his place. Manager Joe Girardi said Martin should begin starting behind the plate next week, barring any setbacks.  . . .  Phillies manager Charlie Manuel held shortstop Jimmy Rollins out of the game Saturday because he missed two workouts attending a Motown tribute in Washington, D.C. Manuel previously announced second baseman Chase Utley would not play because of sore legs. Manuel said he is not concerned but Utley ducked questions about it on Saturday. Rollins will play against the Yankees on Sunday at Bright House Field but Utley will remain sidelined indefinitely.
ON DECK
The Phillies will return the favor to the Yankees and host them for their home spring opener on Sunday. The Yankees will start 24-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova, who is in the mix for the back-end rotation spot. Rookie catching prospect Jesus Montero will start at catcher. The Phillies will start right-hander Joe Blanton.
Game-time is schediled for 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network. The MLB Network will broadcast the game nationally on tape-delay at 8 p.m.

Yankees Will Open Spring Slate With Tribute To Boss


The New York Yankees open their 2011 spring training schedule on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field at 1:05 p.m. Here is a preview of the game and some early camp notes.
GAME 1
The Yankees will open their 2011 home spring training schedule with a salute to late owner George M. Steinbrenner, who died last July at the age of 80.
The team will honor their principal owner with the unveiling of a statute of the man erected outside the home-plate entrance. A video tribute to him will be shown on the left-field scoreboard and the marching band from George M. Steinbrenner High School from Lutz, FL, will perform.
Steinbrenner’s daughters will escort their mother Jean to home plate for the placement of rose to honor their father and the national anthem will be performed by Steinbrenner’s granddaughter Haley Swindal.
There also will be flyover by two F-16 Hornets from the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA.
It is unclear whether Steinbrenner’s son will pay homage to those Yankee players who built “mansions” over the course of the 2010 season.
THE MATCHUP
The Phillies have selected left-hander Cole Hamels to pitch their spring opener. Hamels was 12-11 with a 3.06 ERA last season. He will pitch two innings and will be followed by Vance Worley, Ryan Feieraband, Brian Schlitter and Mike Zagurski.
Manager Charlie Manuel also posted the lineup for the game:
1) Jimmy Rollins SS
2) Ross Gload DH
3) Raul Ibanez LF
4) Ryan Howard 1B
5) Ben Francisco CF
6) Domonic Brown RF
7) Jeff Larish 3B
8) Brian Schneider C
9) Wilson Valdez 2B
Second baseman Chase Utley will not play in the opener because of soreness in his legs and knees. Manuel said the problem is not serious and that Utley will be fine.
The Yankees will counter by pitching non-roster right-hander Bartolo Colon. Colon has not pitched in the major leagues since 2009 and is competing for a back-end rotation spot with the Yankees.
Manager Joe Girardi selected Colon, 37, to pitch the opener because he is coming off pitching in winter ball and is a bit further along than any of the other pitchers. He will pitch two innings up to a limit of 35 pitches.
Colon will followed to the mound by Joba Chamberlain, David Roberstson, David Phelps, Hector Noesi and Eric Wordekemper.
The Yankees also plan to open the spring home schedule with their regular starting lineup to face Hamels.
However, newly signed catcher Russell Martin will be held out of the contest as he continues to recover from surgery on his right knee. Francisco Cervelli will catch instead.
The game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and in the tri-state area by the YES Network.
NO GENERAL ADMISSION
Those Yankee fans hoping to let left-hander Cliff Lee how they feel about him will be out of luck, He will remain at the team’s complex at Bright House Network Field in Clearwater, FL. It is unclear if Lee will pitch Sunday at Bright House Network Field when the Phillies return the favor and host the Yankees.
BAIT AND SWITCH
Girardi has indicated that CC Sabathia will start Sunday’s game in Philadelphia and Sergio Mitre will follow on Monday at Lakeland against the Detroit Tigers. But plans for Tuesday and Wednesday have been switched.
Phil Hughes will start Tuesday’s game in Bradenton against the Pittsburgh Pirates and A.J. Burnett has been switched to pitch Wednesday at home Houston Astros. That would seem to indicate that Hughes is, for now, considered the No. 2 starter.
MINORS WELCOME
The Yankees will honor two minor leaguers before the March 19 game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Infielder Eduardo Nunez and right-hander David Phelps will be presented with the 2010 Kevin Lawn awards, dedicated to Kevin O’Brien Lawn , the son of longtime vice president and chief of operations Jack Lawn, who passed away in 1999.
Nunez, 23, batted .289 with 55 runs, 25 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 50 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 118 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010. he also was a midseason and postseason International League All-Star.
Phelps, 24, cobined to go 10-2 with a 2.50 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 26 games with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2010.
FIRST CASUALTY OF SPRING
Former No. 1 pick Andrew Brackman will be sidelined until next week with tightness in his groin.
The 6-foot-10 right-hander is scheduled to throw another bullpen session on Tuesday. But he will be unavailable to pitch in any of the early spring training games.
Brackman, 25, who the Yankees drafted in 2007 knowing he would be sidelined for a season to recover from Tommy John surgery, has been impressive with his command and velocity in early bullpen sessions at camp.

Walkoff Home Run Propels Phils Over Yankees, Hughes

GAME 19
PHILLIES 9, YANKEES 7

Career minor-league infielder Wilson Valdez hit a two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Philadelphia Phillies a 9-7 victory over the New York Yankees on Monday at Bright House Network Field in Clearwater, FL.
Mike Stutes (1-0) pitched one inning of scoreless relief to pick of the victory. Phil Hughes (0-2) took the loss.
The defeat dropped the Yankees’ Grapefruit League record to 8-11. The Phillies are now 9-7-1 this spring.
YANKEE POSITIVES

  • Phil Hughes gave up four runs on three home runs but, make no mistake about it, he pitched some exceptional baseball. In 4 2/3 innings — taking away the home runs — Hughes gave up no runs on two hits and no walks and struck out six batters. Chalk up those home runs to luck and a stiff breeze blowing out to right that made just about every fly ball carry over the wall. Hughes was sensational.
  • Mark Teixeira had a 4-for-4 day with two singles, a double and a home run. He scored two runs and drove in two and raised his spring average to an even .400.
  • Curtis Granderson also contributed a single and a double and was on base three times in four at-bats. He raised his spring average to .267.
  • The “utility guys” (Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo and Eduardo Nunez) combined for a triple, a double and another double, in that order, to begin a five-run rally off Cole Hamels in the fourth inning.
  • Lefty specialist Royce Ring was called upon to pitch to left-hander Raul Ibanez to begin the fifth inning and he retired him on a popup. His ERA this spring is still 0.00.
THE NEGATIVES

  • This was not A.J. Burnett’s day. He gave up four hits and two walks in the first inning, which led to five runs. Placido Polanco stroked a two-run home run and minor-league catcher Dane Sardinha doubled in three runs. Burnett seems to be still having trouble with the OBI — one bad inning — problem that plagued him last season. In the next three innings he gave up no runs on three hits and he ended up striking out four batters on the day.
  • Hughes did lose the game. He now is 0-2 and his ERA spiked to 4.15. He also badly hung some curveballs and he needs to work on the command of that pitch.
  • Catcher Francisco Cervelli had a awful day at the plate. He was 0-for-4, he did not get a ball out of the infield, struck out once and grounded into a double play.
  • After pounding Cole Hamels for seven runs on nine hits in four innings the offense took an extended siesta for the rest of the afternoon, managing only three hits over the next five innings against relievers David Herndon, Antonio Bastardo and Stutes. 
DIAMOND NOTES

Despite the wind, the Yankees were happy with clear and sunny skies and a game-time temperature of 65 degrees. After three cancellations this spring, the Yankees just hope for clear skies. . . . A standing-room crowd of 10,724 packed Bright House Network Field to watch this World Series rematch.
. . . The Phillies wanted to start their Opening Day lineup in the game but center fielder Shane Victorino, catcher Carlos Ruiz and even third-base coach Sam Perlozzo all had to be scratched from the game because of illness. . . . Sardinha, who would not have played had Ruiz been healthy, not only hit the three-run double off Burnett in the first, he added a solo home run off Hughes in the eighth inning that tied the game at 7.  . . . Manager Joe Girardi had a busy day. He watched his own players play an intrasquad game that started at 10 a.m. at George M. Steinbrenner Field and then hopped on the bus with the team to head to Clearwater and play the Phillies.  . . . Girardi got a chance to observe Joba Chamberlain pitch to 19 batters in five innings in the intrasquad game. He gave up two runs and three extra-base hits in a 75-pitch outing. Unfortunately, Chamberlain may have not done enough because Hughes looked so sharp in his outing against the Phillies on Monday.  . . . Alex Rodriguez will leave the team to head to Buffalo, N.Y., to answer questions from federal investigators about Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, the New York Times reported.
THE NEXT GAME

The Yankees will not play an exhibition game on Tuesday. The team will return to action at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday when they play host to the Washington Nationals. The Yankees will start Javier Vazquez and Mariano Rivera is also scheduled to pitch. Livian Hernandez will start for the Nationals.
Game time is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.

Five Reasons Why the Yankees Won and the Phillies Lost

I hate to say I told you so but I did tell you so. In my World Series preview post on Oct.28 I predicted the Yankees would win in six games. I also said they would win with their superior pitching. That prediction was an honest one and now let’s look a little deeper for the main reasons why the Yankees beat the Phillies.


No. 1: STARTING PITCHING

In my preview I wrote this:
“Neither the Rockies or the Dodgers have a pitcher of the caliber of CC Sabathia or can boast of a more experienced postseason pitcher than Andy Pettitte.  In contrast, the Yankees might struggle some with Cliff Lee but they could feast on Pedro Martinez, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.”

This is exactly what happened. Lee was 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in the series. Hamels, Martinez and Blanton were a combined 0-3 with a 7.08 ERA. I don’t think I have seen such a great team like the Phillies get this far in the postseason with basically one competent pitcher. But they did.
The Yankees’ trio of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte were 3-2 with an ERA of 4.46. Those numbers may not seem dominant but in the games Lee did not pitch, the Yankee starters were better than the pitcher they faced.
I also wrote this about Pedro Martinez:
Pedro Martinez did pitch well in his only start in the postseason. He went seven innings in a no-decision the Phillies eventually lost to the Dodgers in Game 2. He has the ability to shut down the Yankees. But he also has been beaten many times by the Yankees in the past. Hideki Matsui, Pedro? Remember him?

I don’t think Pedro wants to see Hideki Matsui in the batter’s box ever again after Wednesday night.
Starting pitching is a key in any series and, though none of the three Yankees’ starters pitched  great on short rest, they pitched well enough to expose the weakness in the depth of the Phillies’ starters.
No. 2: RYAN HOWARD

Someone told me there was this huge first baseman for the Phillies who hit mammoth home runs and was an MVP. I wonder what happened to him because I did not see him. I did see a big guy who hit one home run, drove in three runs and hit .174 with 13 strikeouts in 23 at-bats. But that could not have been Howard. Could it?
Unfortunately, for the Phillies, it was Howard. Though Pettitte gave up an “Oh, by the way” two-run home run to Howard in Game 6, he was MIA throughout this series because the Yankee lefties pitched him consistently outside and made Howard chase pitches out of the strike zone.
Of course, Howard was not the only problem with the Phillies’ offense. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino combined to go 9-for-45 (.200). That is why Chase Utley hit five home but only had eight RBIs. 
No. 3: THE BULLPEN

I wrote the following in my preview:
By miles. Not inches but miles, the Yankees bullpen is better than the Phillies. It could be the one key reason, the Yankees are favored to win the series. The fact that only Cliff Lee can possibly give the enough length in his starts to cover up the Phillies deficiencies in the bullpen is quite telling. The Yankees simply feast off middle relievers and shaky closers. Just ask Joe Nathan of the Twins and Brian Fuentes of the Angels. I would not want to be Brad Lidge in this World Series.

The Phillies’ bullpen gave up three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in Game 3 and Brad Lidge absolutely imploded as I predicted in the ninth inning of Game 4. Chad Durbin did not help Martinez much by giving up three runs in one-third of an inning in Game 6. So in three of the four defeats, the Phillies’ bullpen did not get the job done.
The Yankees on the other hand got 5 1/3 scoreless innings and two saves from Mariano Rivera. Lefty specialist Damaso Marte retired all eight batters he faced. The rest of the bullpen pitched 10 2/3 innings and that was not to expose the weakness here with Phil Hughes struggling. Give manager Joe Girardi credit. He used his bullpen wisely and it was far superior to the Phillies.

No. 4: THE DH FACTOR

This is not just because Hideki Matsui was named the Series MVP and was 8-for-12 with three home runs and 12 RBIs despite not starting in half the games. Nope. This is also because Matsui was a factor in this series and Matt Stairs was not.
Stairs is another Phillies power threat from the left side. But because lefthanders Sabathia and Pettitte started four of the six games, Stairs only started Game 2 as a DH. He singled in a run in his first at-bat. But he was 0-for-7 after that and was not a factor the rest of the way.
Ben Francisco started two games and was 0-for-7. So the Phillies got absolutely nothing from their bench and Stairs was neutralized by the fact he could not hit lefties well enough to allow manager Charlie Manuel to start him.
No. 5: INTANGIBLES

I warned Manuel about this in my preview:
As long as they have Derek Jeter, they have a chance to turn one slight mistake into a play that can turn a series. You know the Twins and Angels came into the playoffs as two of the most fundamentally sound teams in baseball. Look what happened to them. The Yankees just have a way of waiting for a team to make a mistake and jumping all over it.

Well, even if Manuel had read this, it would not have mattered. But the game-changing and series-changing play was the great at-bat Johnny Damon put on poor Brad Lidge in the ninth inning of Game 4 and the decision to swipe third on Pedro Feliz because the Phillies had no one covering third.
OK, quibble that it took A-Rod’s hit to score him. But, remember this: Damon’s presence at third made Lidge throw fastballs, which is his second best pitch. A-Rod got a fastball to hit because Damon’s daring dash, which could go down in history as the smartest play in World Series history, made Lidge ditch his devastating slider.
You just did not see the Yankees beating themselves at all this postseason but you sure as heck have seen them take advantage of a litany of blunders by the Twins, Angels and now the Phillies. That is no accident either. Good teams do this.
That is just five reasons why the Yankees are the 2009 world champions.
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